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“Where the is sadness, joy” – A survivor in Kenya


Some of the people overseas with whom our missioners walk have witnessed and experienced horrible tragedies from natural disasters to genocide. 

Filled with memories of death and destruction, these people still found things in which to rejoice, living out today’s petition from the peace prayer, “Where there is sadness, joy.” 

Fr. George Corrigan, OFM, reflects on one of the joyful women he met on mission in Kenya from 1996-1999. George’s time in Africa inspired him to join the Franciscan friars and become a priest.

“Time in overseas mission, that compact period of transformation, forever changes and molds you. But there are rarely dramatic happenings. The transformation is rooted in the everyday occurrences – conversations in the market, casual visits to homes, small events in the course of a day’s work.

All of this happens differently for each missioner. For me the transformation came in the faces and lives of people whom I met along the way.

George Corrigan as a lay missioner in Kenya. George is now a Franciscan priest (OFM) and president of the FMS board.

Noela came from a refugee camp in Rwanda and struggled to hold herself and four daughters together as an undocumented alien in Kenya. Her story is not all that unusual for this part of the world; but her life inspired and filled me with grace.

‘Everyday I wake up and I thank God for the miracle of another day.’
Her husband and parents dead in the fields of Rwanda.
Escaping from a world coming apart at its seams, an infant in her arms and three others in tow, she made her way across countries and through the camps
To come here to this place and live each day with fear
Fear that one day there will be a knock at the door and the police will arrest her or ask her for a bribe she could never afford or seek a favor that no soul should hear.
Fear that her children will not come home from play, or school, or church, that someone will decide that the refugee child is easy prey.
Fear that someone in a UN office will decide that her aid request is best answered in the camps among the clans, the gangs, behind the wires.
Fear of the night when the dreams might come, the terror renewed in the cold sweat and uncontrollable trembling.
Fear of the next calamity without a name which will arrive at her doorstep.
‘Everyday I wake up and I thank God for the miracle of another day.’
Another day for market and work, a child coming home excited about some lesson in school
The sound of the playground and rivers of laughter pouring across the fields
Tea with friends, an afternoon on the stoops telling the tales of the day and of life
Braiding the newest style into the hair of her oldest daughter while she worries about the boy she has been seeing
Happy that the younger ones have not yet discovered the mystery of boys
Overjoyed they still seek embraces from their mother.
Each evening seeing the sunset for the first time while the songs of the past play for her along
Some nights in the tenderness of a secret lover, a moment of return to the longings and passion
Each morning at Mass for the celebration of Resurrection.
‘I will accept all the fears if it is the price of living. Of being alive.’

Noela and her children tried to reach Belgium, to join her sister already there. The bribes and prayers got her as far as Cameroon, where they were arrested. From time to time I receive a letter from her – she is managing.”

Fr. George Corrigan, OFM, is the pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Tampa, Fla. From 1996 to 1999, he served with FMS as a lay missioner in Nairobi, Kenya, working with refugees and youth. After joining the friars and the priesthood, Fr. George was the president of FMS’ Board of Directors in 2011.